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Decision Awaited in Landmark Trial…

…Over Toronto's Worst Bird Killing Buildings

Many of the 48 million Americans who enjoy bird watching will have a strong interest in the pending verdict in an unprecedented lawsuit in Toronto, Canada. One of the deadliest threats to birds worldwide – building collisions – has, in a sense, been put on trial.

The trial, which began in April, 2011, pits the owners of three adjoining glass office buildings – Consilium Place Towers – against two environmental groups – Ecojustice and Ontario Nature. Those groups claim that the buildings, whose exterior faces are almost entirely glass, are responsible the deaths of about 7,000 birds in the last decade, making them the most deadly in the entire Greater Toronto area.“Bird friendly construction is a concept that builders in the U.S. are increasingly paying more attention to. San Francisco has passed a law mandating bird-friendly construction for certain buildings; so has Minnesota, and other local governments are considering them as well,” said Dr. Christine Sheppard, Bird Collisions Program Manager of American Bird Conservancy (ABC), the leading bird conservation organization in the United States.

Menkes Consilium Inc., Menkes Developments Ltd., and Menkes Property Management Services Ltd., along with three other companies, have been charged under Canada’s Environmental Protection Act with discharging a contaminant – light reflected from the glass – that causes harm to animals. In addition to possible fines under that law, the companies also face a maximum fine of $60,000 under the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act for causing birds to be in distress. The lawsuit followed lengthy, failed attempts to negotiate a settlement between the parties.According to ABC, even small areas of glass can cause bird fatalities. The amount of glass in the built environment has been rapidly increasing, as new technologies make huge sheets of glass available for applications from home picture windows to skyscrapers. A study from 2006 estimated that 100,000,000 to a billion birds were killed by collisions annually, in the US alone. It now seems likely that a billion may be an underestimate. As part of a national-level program to reduce the massive and growing number of bird deaths resulting from building collisions in the United States, ABC recently released American Bird Conservancy’s Bird-Friendly Building Designs. The 58-page publication contains over 110 photographs and 10 illustrations and focuses on both the causes of collisions and the solutions, with a comprehensive appendix on the biological science behind the issue.

Birds are killed when they try to fly to sky, trees or structures reflected in the glass’ mirror-like surface, or when they try to fly through what they perceive to be a tunnel through a building. Light emanating from a building or its landscaping at night attracts birds, further exacerbating the problem.

“Many of us have at one time or another, walked into a glass door, so we know how jarring that is to our bodies just at walking speed. Try to imagine hitting that same pane at 30 miles per hour, thirty or more feet off the ground. It’s not surprising that so many bird collisions prove fatal,” Sheppard said.

According to the Canadian non-profit group FLAP (Fatal Light Awareness Program), each year in Toronto, over one million birds are killed in collisions with building windows in the city, the majority during spring and fall migrations. Toronto is located in a major migratory bird corridor and as of January, 2010, designs for new construction and significant renovation in Toronto must be bird-friendly.

4th July 2014